Create Mail rules to flag or colour email on the Mac

When your inbox is full of messages each morning and it looks like a big chaotic mess, it is disheartening. What can you do? Create rules to flag and colour important emails.

Colours and flags can be used to make email messages stand out and you could assign a colour to a specific company for example. Messages from your work colleagues or from one or more companies you regularly deal with could be coloured orange. Personal messages from your close friends could be coloured green. It is possible to colour the text or the background and there are endless possibilities for coloured messages.

What colours mean is up to you, but don't try to use too many. One colour in the inbox stands out, but if you use all the colours of the rainbow then you end up with a mess.

Flags can be attached to email messages and these have colours too. They are small and less noticeable than applying colour to the whole message and it is a way of avoiding the multicoloured rainbow effect that applying colours can have on your inbox.

Flags are more subtle indicators and what’s more, messages can be sorted by their flags. This makes it easy to see all messages of a certain type, such as from friends.

Select an email that you want to create a rule for and go to the Mail menu and select Preferences.

Mail preferences in OS X

Select the Rules tab and you might see one rule already there - News From Apple. It is an example rule. Click the Add Rule button to create a new rule.

Mail rules in OS X

Moving swiftly on, here is the finished rule. Let’s take a look at how it is set up.

Mail rules in OS X

  1. The Description box is simply the name and you should give it one that describes what the rule does.
  2. Click here and there are two options, any and all. See the plus buttons on the right? They are used to create multiple conditions, so you could create a rule that looked for emails from someone with a certain subject line. Use all for this. Alternatively, you could have multiple rules to check that emails are from certain people and perform the action if any of them are true.
  3. This is the start of the condition and Mail checks each email to see whether this rule applies. A long list of options are here and From is selected in this example because we want to check whether an email is from someone.
  4. Several options are available, such as is equal to, which is useful if we want to check that an email is from a particular person. If 3 is set to Subject then 4 could be set to contains. So if the subject contains something, then an action can be applied.
  5. This depends on 3 and 4. In the example, we check whether the From is equal to and 5 contains an email address. If 3 was Subject and 4 contains, then 5 could be a word or phrase that appears in the subject.
  6. This is the start of the action to take when an email is found to fit the conditions above. Here Set Color of Message is used, but other options include move, copy, delete, mark as read, apply a coloured flag and others.
  7. The options here depend on the action selected in 6. This action sets a colour, so the options are  background or text. If the action was to play a sound, then 7 is the selected sound to play from a long list of sounds.
  8. This may or may not appear and it depends on the action. This example colours the background, so there is an option to choose the colour.  If the action is to delete the email then 7 and 8 are not needed because the action has no options.


This is a simple example of a rule and it colours the background of messages from a specific person to make them stand out from the rest of the messages in the inbox.

When the OK button is clicked to save the rule, you are asked if you want to apply it now. Rules apply on new incoming messages, but this one-time offer enables the rule to be applied to all the messages in the inbox.

Mail rules in OS X

This rule applies colour to emails from a person, but the action could just as easily be to delete it. A rule like that would trash messages from a sender if they are a spammer. If the condition is set to subject then a keyword that appears in junk emails could be used to identify and delete them. Emails that match a condition could be moved to a folder.

The possibilities are endless and you can sort out a messy inbox with a good set of rules. Try creating some to sort, flag and colour messages.



Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Related items you will like...